Thomas Kellenberger ran 4,000 kilometers

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / March 9) – Thomas Kellenberger has now walked 4000 kilometers to the Philippines in 185 days and is now looking forward to spring.

Thomas and his Swiss friend Marijn in a Turkish winter. Photo from Thomas’ islandkidsphilippines Instagram account

I met Thomas in Rüderswil, Bern, when he was on an unscheduled two-week break to visit his grandmother and attend to urgent matters, including attending back-to-back benefit concerts for his “walk-for-a-cause” from Switzerland to the Philippines .

Thomas looked darker and slimmer, his body adjusted to the constant daily walking. “I’ve never felt better,” he told me. With his Swiss friend Marijn, Thomas had walked up to 93 kilometers in a single day, each pushing and challenging the other to walk longer distances. Together they had run more than the 30 to 50 kilometers, the daily goal that Thomas had initially set himself – to reach 63 or 67 kilometers a day. From Asmara to Sinop in Turkey, they hiked 320 kilometers in just 8 days!

“I got to know my body very well, I know exactly how much food to eat and when. So I don’t have any low sugar experience or don’t have enough energy because I know how to eat the right amount of calories at the right time. So physically it’s going very well,” he said.

Thomas started his Kuya Thom Goes Home trek on August 25, 2021 to raise funds to build a children’s village in Cagayan de Oro for Island Kids Philippines, a foundation he co-founded with Filipinos and Swiss in 2006.

When I met him online in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of October, Thomas had admitted that earlier in the day he had been worried about the weather and what kind of people and situations he would meet or where he would turn his head to that night put down to sleep. What if he crossed country borders, would he be let in? Would the border be closed due to the pandemic?

But now those days of unnecessary worries are over, he has learned to trust life and not be afraid of what is about to happen. “In the months that have passed through many countries, I have learned to trust that everything will go smoothly, that everything will go well. I no longer feel alien in new places,” Thomas told me.

It also helps that nearly a third of the fund’s target has been raised (CHF 68,184 as of March 2, 2022). Thomas is confident that there is still enough time to raise the remaining donations for the children’s village.

And having covered nearly a third of the estimated 15,000km route to the Philippines, he was already confident he could finish it all, even if it meant another winter, before finally making his home in the town of Cagayan de Oro would achieve.

The winter was hard for Thomas. In Kosovo he fell ill with the flu and stomach problems, and he had spent cold nights in Serbia and Bulgaria because of the bad weather. In Istanbul, he and his friend Marijn got caught in a snowstorm and had to turn back a few times. “We were freezing and it was windy and there was a lot of snow and our feet were cold and wet,” Thomas remembers those difficult days.

“I was glad I had Marijn with me,” said Thomas. “Together we were able to cheer each other up in bad conditions. If I had been alone it would have been much more difficult.”

Over the past month, Thomas said he’s learned to enjoy the daily walks (“I found hiking to be a beautiful way to travel”) and he’s learned to trust that everything will go smoothly. “I’ve met so many good people along the way and haven’t had any bad experiences.”

As he walked, he reflected on the epic journeys of famous world travelers like Marco Polo. “The world has really gotten smaller. I think of the time when Marco Polo went for a walk, when they left it was really a farewell to their families and they might not see each other again. They were already cut off from what was happening at home. Her life was the journey.”

He’s lucky, he says, because with modern technology he can still communicate with others on foot and even take part in work meetings.

He says that as he walked he felt his destination become even clearer. “I felt this urge that I really belong there in Cagayan de Oro. I can feel myself moving forward, I know exactly where I want to go. It’s a beautiful thing because I know where I belong, that’s where my heart is.”

Now Thomas is looking forward to resuming his hike in the spring when temperatures are no longer so harsh. He celebrated his 40th birthday on March 2nd with his family and Swiss friends. In Europe, spring officially begins on March 20th and clocks go back one hour on March 27th when “springtime” begins.

Warmer spring hike temperatures also mean Thomas can leave heavy winter clothing and gear with friends and travel lighter.

Thomas is looking forward to hiking with friends in Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for the last two weeks. He plans to take the more direct route if he gets a visa to Iran; If not, its alternative route is via Georgia and then Azerbaijan, then from the capital Baku across the Caspian Sea to Uzbekistan and so on.

Towards the end of my interview, Thomas has relaxed enough to share interesting tidbits with me about his journey. As in Istanbul, stray dogs are allowed into restaurants and are even allowed to sit on benches and be fed there.

The author with Thomas Kellenberger last February 2022 in Bern.
Photo courtesy of Brady Eviota

“I am very impressed how much the Turks care about dogs. Even the government takes care of the street dogs, visits them on the street and feeds and vaccinates them.”

He was told that the Turks have a saying that “he who is good to animals is also good to people; and whoever is bad to animals will also be bad to people.” Therefore, the government believes it must lead by example, and the people in the communities follow them.

Many stray dogs walked long distances with Thomas and Marijn and became their travel companions. “They are very friendly and look forward to seeing and joining hikers on the highways. Some even followed us to the next village.”

And what about Thomas’ interesting discovery about Turkish coffee?

“I thought the Turks always drink Turkish coffee. Turks are actually drinking more tea, anytime, anywhere. Even in restaurants, chai is offered free of charge as a supplement after the meal. In Bulgaria and Kosovo I saw people drinking coffee all day and they call it Turkish coffee. But when I came to Turkey, where Turkish coffee is said to come from, I didn’t see them drinking coffee, I saw them drinking tea. And the chai is grown locally, it’s grown along the Black Sea coast.”

“They drink the so-called ‘Turkish coffee’ in the evening before going to bed! Which is a weird thing – drinking coffee before going to bed!”

He says he even encountered kindred hearts during his walk, like Murat and Olgun, two Turkish engineers and entrepreneurs who help the less privileged among their compatriots.

“Murat called us from the porch of Olgun’s house in Samsun (Turkey) and they invited Marijn and me for tea and toast,” Thomas wrote in his Instagram post. “That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.”

Murat and Olgun had lived in the Netherlands. Now they have projects for people with disabilities, distribute up to a thousand wheelchairs across the country, and have also designed and manufactured public charging stations for electric wheelchairs. They also organize holiday trips for poor children from the south.

Murat and Olgun introduced the story of Thomas’ charity walk to the Turkish media and also took it to the city’s mayors.

“Morat and Olgun are two beautiful people with hearts of gold,” says Thomas. “During this trip I’ve met a lot of like-minded people, we kind of attract each other and it’s nice to learn about the other projects and other charities.”

Thomas will continue his trek in Ordu, Turkey, in mid-March. (By Brady Eviota for MindaNews)

You can follow Thomas on his hike or keep in touch with him via Instagram accounts (Island ChildrenPhilippines or Kellenberger Thomas), his Facebook account (Kellenberger Thomas) or on the Island Kids Philippines website (www.islandkids.ch)


(Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital near the Bernese Alps.)

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